Our childhoods were always full of creepy urban legends. No matter the location, era or setting, we have all heard those ghost stories that our childhood friends and family would talk about with sadistic glee. But we got through them together…while also sharing a laugh.
IT is one of the best surprises of 2017 because it captures those childhood experiences. The film manages to balance creepy horror themes with a genuine and heartfelt coming of age story. Bill Skarsgard’s Pennywise is a monster that the filmmakers utilize brilliantly, but the film truly shines because of its group of young “losers.”
The Horrors of Growing Up
In the town of Derry, Maine, something is very wrong. Children are disappearing and the townspeople don’t seem to care. One of those missing children is the younger brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) and he will not rest until he finds him. Together with bookworm Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), strong willed Beverly (Sophia Lillis), wisecracking Richie (Finn Wolfhard), hypochondriac Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), outsider Mike (Chosen Jacobs) and stuffy Stan (Wyatt Oleff), he discovers the reason: A terrifying, shape-shifting creature that feeds on fear. This “Loser’s Club” must band together to battle this creature and overcome their fears.
The best horror films rely on likable protagonists and IT’s Loser’s Club gives us a group of lovable kids worth rooting for. It is pleasantly surprising how much care a horror film takes to build up its young heroes. Each of the kids feels real…we have probably all known someone like Richie or Ben. They all realistically swear like twelve year olds who have just discovered the juvenile satisfaction of the f-word. And most surprising? They provide much of the comedy. Not only is this film scary and heartfelt, it is one of the funnier movies of the year.
Individually, every actor gives a great performance in different ways. Lieberher is gives a stoic but emotional performance as Bill, whose unfortunate stutter doesn’t deter his dogged pursuit of his brother’s killer. Wolfhard is the polar opposite of his Stranger Things character as the foul mouthed Richie while Grazer nearly steals his scenes as Eddie. Young Jeremy Ray Taylor is a personal favorite as Ben, the shy but incredibly sweet kid who does some amazing acting with simple looks. Even the love triangle (Or should it be crush triangle?) between Bill, Beverly and Ben is handled well, as it is portrayed as youthful and sweetly awkward.
However, the breakout star of the film is Sophia Lillis. Beverly Marsh’s backstory is full of physical and emotional abuse, so it demands a strong performance. Lillis brings a multifaceted and emotionally real performance to Beverly. In many ways, the character and the young actress is the glue that holds this group together and it’s a joy to watch.
These kids come together to grow up and get past their fears. Think back to your own childhood as you started to hit your teens. It was scary. IT is an obvious, but well done, metaphor for the scariness of growing up. The film does a great job playing on that and makes it instantly relatable. The Loser’s Club has to deal with a physical and dangerous manifestation of that fear.
Speaking of that manifestation, the creature and its favorite incarnation, Pennywise the Dancing Clown, is a terrifying presence. While this film is not a remake of the mini series featuring Tim Curry’s iconic performance as Pennywise, the comparisons will be made. Curry’s turn was like a villainous killer with a black comedic streak that was terrifying, yet fun. Skarsgard’s performance isn’t necessarily better…just different.
His Pennywise is less fun and more unsettling. Director Andy Muschietti, Skarsgard, and the other filmmakers create a presence that literally haunts nearly every scene. Pennywise himself doesn’t appear often, a wise decision that makes his physical presence all the more frightening. Everything, from the performance, to the visual effects to the way Muschietti shoots him, creates one of the more memorable creatures in the horror genre.
This film relies more on tension that straight up “gotcha” scares. Muschietti and the other filmmakers create a haunted atmosphere that permeates every frame. We are seeing this world through the eyes of scared kids. Even the ordinary adults in the film are disturbing in some way, as though It effects the whole town. Low angle shots of the often grotesque people of Derry put us right in the Loser’s Club’s shoes. The film is a harrowing experience throughout because of this.
Growing Up Takes A Long Time
IT is far from perfect though. At two hours and fifteen minutes, this is longer than most horror films. While most of that time is spent developing the characters and tension, the length does take a toll. The relentless nature of the film’s atmosphere may also wear on cinephiles who are not fans of the horror genre. I came out of the film slightly exhausted and sore in the neck because I had sunk into my seat during the more intense scenes.
While much of the film’s length is spent developing the Loser’s Club, some of the characters get the short end of the stick. Mike has an intriguing backstory involving his parents and his outsider status, but he disappears for long periods of time. Stan barely has any development and barely registers because of that. Too bad, considering he has one of the more intriguing “fears” in the film.
As a result, IT does suffer from pacing issues. There are moments that feel wasted, like the few times the film indulges in unnecessary jump scares. The big scare scenes are also spaced somewhat awkwardly towards the conclusion of the film and begin to get repetitive. I have read theories that said this is done on purpose, to show the kids slowly getting over their fears. That is a cool choice on the filmmakers’ part if true, but it still detracts from the film’s pace.
Horror At Its Best
IT is a great horror film for one simple reason. It captures childhood fears in a powerful and emotional way that resonate as much as the intense scares. The horror genre relies on fears based in reality from real people. The filmmakers behind IT understand that. It revels in those intense fears, but gives you a chance to breath…maybe even laugh. IT is a cathartic experience that should be seen with as large a crowd as possible.
SCORE: 8.5 OUT OF 10